Processed foods, like chicken nuggets, S ice cream and breakfast cereals may be related to premature death and poor health, according to two new studies.
Researchers in France and Spain ensure that the amount of food of this kind consumed in the world has been shot.
Their studies are not a definitive test of the damage they can do, but they come shortly after tests suggesting that ultraprocessed foods make one overeat.
The experts were cautious but called for further investigation into this issue.
What are processed foods?
The term comes from a way of classifying the food according to the degree of industrial processing to which it has been submitted.
What are the ultraprocessed foods and how are they related to cancer?
The lowest category is «unprocessed or minimally processed foods», which include: • fruits • vegetables • milk • Meat • Legumes such as lentils • Seeds • Grains such as rice • eggs.
«Processed foods» have been modified to last longer or taste better, usually with salt, oil, sugar or fermentation.
This category includes: • cheese • bacon • Homemade bread • Canned fruits and vegetables • Smoked fish • Beer.
Does the kind of bread you eat make any difference? Then come the «ultraprocessed Foods», which have undergone more substantial industrial processes and often have long lists of ingredients in the package, including preservatives, sweeteners or color enhancers.
Professor Maira Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra, told the BBC: «It is said that if a product contains more than five ingredients, it is probably ultraprocessed.»
Examples include: • Processed meats such as sausages and burgers • Breakfast cereals or cereal bars • Instant Soups • Sweetened soft drinks • Chicken nuggets • Cake • chocolate • Ice cream • Bread produced in bulk • Many meals «ready To warm up, «like pies and pizza.
What do these studies say?
The first study, conducted by the University of Navarra in Spain, followed 19,899 people for a decade and assessed their diet every two years.
In that period, 335 deaths were given.
But for every 10 deaths among those who ate less processed foods, there were 16 among those who consumed them most (more than four servings a day).
The second study, conducted by the University of Paris, followed 105,159 people for five years and also evaluated their diet twice a year.
It showed that those who ate the most processed foods had worse health when it comes to the heart.
Cardiovascular disease rates were 277 for every 100,000 people per year among those who consumed mostly ultraprocessed foods, compared to 242 for each 100,000 that reported those who ate less.
Mathilde Touvier, of the University of Paris, told the BBC: «The fast and growing global consumption of ultraprocessed foods, to the detriment of less processed foods, can generate a substantial burden of cardiovascular disease in the next Decades. »
Prepared dishes are a good example of processed foods. What harm do they do?
Mathilde Touvier, of the University of Paris, told the BBC: «(The) evidence is accumulating.»
«More and more independent studies see a relationship between ultraprocessed foods and negative health effects.»
Last year, a link was established between this type of food and an increased risk of cancer.
Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra, told the BBC that it was «very safe» that they were detrimental to health.
The challenge is to be 100% safe.
Studies detect a pattern between highly processed foods and poor health, but they cannot prove that one causes the other.
Those who ate more ultraprocessed foods were also more likely to have other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, something that the researchers tried to keep in mind.
But Kevin McConway, a professor of statistics at The Open University, said: «You cannot be sure that all the relevant things have been included.»
«These studies increase my confidence that there is something real behind these relationships, but I’m not far from sure yet.»
Why can they be bad?
The first test that was done with ultraprocessed Foods showed that they led people to eat more and gain weight.
Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health controlled every morsel of food that volunteers ate for a month.
And when they were given an ultraprocessed food, they consumed 500 calories a day more than when they received raw meals.
Other possibilities include:
They are energetically dense but lack nutrients and fiber.
Although the additives that they have have been tested to verify that they are safe, it can be unhealthy to consume at the same time many additives of different foods.
People eat them more because they are easy to eat.
They make us take out of our diet the healthiest foods, like fruits and vegetables: Who wants a banana when he can have an ice cream?
These ideas still need to be investigated.
Some experts believe that when we incorporate more processed foods into our diet, we remove healthier ones. While the term processed foods may be new, the health tips coming out of the study will be known to you.
Victoria Taylor, a dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: «We already recommend adopting a Mediterranean diet, which also includes many minimally processed or unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, beans, Lentils and whole grains «.
«This, together with regular exercise and non-smoking, has been shown to be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart and circulatory diseases.»
Bes-Rastrollo believes that there is enough evidence for governments to start acting.
«This, together with regular exercise and non-smoking, has proven to be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart and circulatory diseases,» he said.
«Measures such as taxes and marketing restrictions on processed foods to discourage their consumption (must be considered)».
«At the same time, the promotion of fresh and minimally processed foods is a requirement.»
How valid is the «ultraprocessed» label?
Not everyone agrees with the concept of processed foods.
Gunter Kuhne, associate professor of nutrition and health at the University of Reading, said the studies were important and justified further research.
But labeling foods as ultraprocessed might not be consistent.
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«It is also not obvious why salami is considered to be ultraprocessed, but cheese, which often requires many more processing and additive steps, is not.»
«The classification combines a wide range of foods with different potential health impacts, limiting their usefulness as a basis for recommendations.»
The studies were published in the British Medical Journal.